Best Health

THE TEN

In­som­nia is al­ready quite com­mon in women. Add a pan­demic, and you’ve got a per­fect storm for sleep­less nights. Here are 10 proven ways to get more shut-eye.

- By ISHANI NATH | photograph­y by BRIANNA ROYE

Sleep ex­perts on how to get a bet­ter night’s shut-eye.

“WOMEN GET THE short end of the stick.”

Talk about an ev­er­green com­ment. To­day, it’s com­ing from be­havioural sleep medicine spe­cial­ist Jonathan Charest, who’s talk­ing to me about sleep is­sues.

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, 55 per­cent of Cana­dian women re­port that they fre­quently strug­gle to fall asleep or stay asleep, com­pared to 43 per­cent of men. The rea­sons are myr­iad, Charest says. Nat­u­ral hor­mone fluc­tu­a­tions caused by the men­strual cy­cle, pregnancy, per­i­menopause and menopause can re­sult in in­som­nia. Sleep is­sues may have also got­ten worse for women dur­ing the pan­demic, he adds, in part be­cause of the de­sire to keep up pro­duc­tiv­ity while also of­ten fac­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den of do­mes­tic du­ties and child care. This ex­tra pres­sure, mixed with the cur­rent lev­els of stress and anx­i­ety, make the pan­demic the per­fect storm for in­ad­e­quate sleep.

And fre­quent sleep­less or rest­less nights can have se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Stud­ies link in­suf­fi­cient shut-eye to an in­crease in the risk of de­pres­sion, obe­sity, type 2 di­a­betes and car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk. Sta­tis­tics Canada re­ports about one-third of Cana­di­ans reg­u­larly sleep less than the rec­om­mended seven to nine hours per night.

No won­der, then, that sleep, and our pur­suit of it, has grown into a $78-bil­lion global in­dus­try. There’s no short­age of sug­gested so­lu­tions out there, rang­ing from pil­low sprays to high-tech gad­gets to or­gas­ming be­fore bed.

But what strate­gies have been proven to help, and which ones are based on lit­tle more than a dream? We spoke with three Cana­dian sleep ex­perts about proven ways to get a bet­ter night’s sleep. Here’s what they ad­vise.

. EM­BRACE THE DARK.

The first ques­tion Charest asks pa­tients at Cal­gary’s Cen­tre for Sleep and Hu­man Per­for­mance medical sleep lab is: How dark is your be­d­room? Bright light makes the body feel more awake be­cause it in­hibits me­la­tonin, a hor­mone that reg­u­lates the body’s in­ter­nal 24-hour sched­ule of sleep and wake­ful­ness, known as the cir­ca­dian or sleep cy­cle. For those with light-filled bed­rooms, Charest rec­om­mends in­vest­ing in black­out blinds or eye masks. Any­thing that can help with a dark en­vi­ron­ment is a pos­i­tive, he says.

. MAKE SURE YOU MOVE.

Sit­ting on the couch all day may seem re­lax­ing, but it can ac­tu­ally im­pede get­ting a deeper level of sleep. “If you ex­er­cise through­out the day, re­gard­less of the in­ten­sity, you will need to re­cu­per­ate from that ex­er­cise,” Charest says, adding that 30 minutes of ac­tiv­ity is enough to see a change in your sleep pat­terns.

If pos­si­ble, avoid ex­er­cis­ing too close to bed­time, Charest ad­vises, be­cause it en­er­gizes the body rather than putting it into wind-down mode. How­ever, the most im­por­tant thing is to fig­ure out what works with your sched­ule. “I pre­fer you do­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity at 8 p.m. than not at all,” he says.

. GET SOME SUN.

Sun­light, par­tic­u­larly early in the morn­ing, helps the body feel alert and awake. But Dr. Frances Chung, ResMed re­search chair of Anes­the­si­ol­ogy, Sleep and Pe­ri­op­er­a­tive Medicine at Univer­sity Health Net­work in Toronto, says with many em­ploy­ees now work­ing from home, ex­po­sure to sun­light has been re­duced. Chung, who is cur­rently re­search­ing the im­pact of the pan­demic on sleep, ad­justed her own rou­tine to ac­count for this, mak­ing a point of hav­ing her morn­ing cof­fee out in her gar­den. In the win­ter, ex­perts rec­om­mend us­ing a sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der (SAD) lamp to keep your cir­ca­dian rhythm on track.

. BRING THE WHITE NOISE.

The sound of a snor­ing part­ner, for ex­am­ple, varies in terms of deci­bels and fre­quency, which can make it dif­fi­cult to fall asleep. In stud­ies on pa­tients in noisy hos­pi­tals, white noise showed po­ten­tial for mask­ing the in­con­sis­tent environmen­tal

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